Governor Kaine Signs Tough New Dogfighting Bill into Law

Posted on April 15, 2008

State RICO Laws to Cover Organized Dogfighting

Pit bullRichmond – As of July 1, criminals convicted of dogfighting in the
state of Virginia will face even tougher legal penalties under a new
law signed by Governor Kaine. The law, written by the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and patroned by state
Senator W. Roscoe Reynolds, adds organized dogfighting to the list of
crimes that may be prosecuted under the state’s RICO ("Racketeer
Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act") laws, giving prosecutors the
power to go after dogfighting operations as organized criminal
enterprises. Both Oregon and Utah have similar laws in place.

RICO–a powerful tool to combat organized criminal operations–has
historically been used to address a wide variety of organized criminal
efforts, including drug dealing, gambling, and trading in child
pornography. Given the option to utilize RICO in a dogfighting
operation, law enforcement authorities will now have increased
abilities in seeking justice for the animals abused and, as in the
recent Michael Vick case, even killed by their owners.

While dogfighting is already illegal in Virginia, the ability to bring
a state RICO case provides specific advantages to law enforcement
overseeing dogfighting investigations in Virginia, including:

  • More comprehensive investigatory powers;
  • Extended statutes of limitations;
  • Longer sentences (in terms of both actual incarceration and the length of post-prison supervision);
  • Larger fines; 
  • Pre-conviction "seize and freeze" of a defendant’s assets; and 
  • Forfeiture of the assets used in, and gains generated from, the dogfighting activities.

These are key legal tools in combating organized dogfighting rings –
highly organized and guarded criminal enterprises that are extremely
difficult for law enforcement to penetrate.

"The vast majority of all dogfighting cases are discovered as a
collateral matter to some other type of criminal investigation, be it a
drug case, a gambling investigation or simply in response to a 911
dispatch to a domestic disturbance," says ALDF Executive Director
Stephen Wells. "Adding dogfighting as a RICO trigger gives law
enforcement additional tools, and a strong incentive, to start directly
targeting organized dogfighting rings–not to mention that it sends a
very strong message to the dogfighting community that the stakes just
got substantially higher. We salute Governor Kaine and the Virginia
Assembly for taking this strong stand."

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